Nymphomaniac Volumes I & II, film review: Confessions of an arch provocateur
(18) Dir. Lars von Trier; Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, 241mins
Friday 21 February 2014
"It will be long," warns Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) at the start of Lars von Trier's controversy-baiting diptych about the sex life of a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac and sinner. (Cinemas will show both feature-length volumes separately, but it doesn't make a lot of sense to see one without the other.) "And moral, I'm afraid." To which we should add that it will not be to everyone's taste. And it certainly isn't for those who have found the cumulative masochistic suffering of Von Trier's earlier female characters unpalatable.
But it is funny as well as punishing and bleak. It is erudite, digressive, teasing, self-aware, self-mocking, and impossible to mistake for the work of anyone else.
Joe unburdens herself, in eight discrete chapters, to Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard), a passing ascetic confessor who has found her lying bruised and bloodied in a cobbled London alleyway. Acting as a kind of one-man Greek chorus, he interjects with musings on everything from fly-fishing and Fibonacci numbers to Zeno's paradox and the devil's interval – perhaps simply because he finds the detail of her story too sordid, but more likely in an effort to attach some meaning to what is otherwise a pointlessly miserable story about lovelessness and degradation. "This is nothing more than a blasphemous retelling of the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain," he exclaims at one point. By which time, you know he's over-reaching.
But depending on which side of the film's Platonic dialogue you side with, Nymphomaniac is either the thoroughly miserable story of a woman who discovers too late that love is not just a bourgeois construct, and that you can neither entirely validate or entirely negate the self with sex alone; or it is a profane celebration of the human condition and all of its varied glories and bathetic weaknesses. You really can choose to go either way.
ReviewThese heroes in a half shell should have been left in hibernation
Sek, k'athjilari! (That’s “yes, definitely” to non-native speakers).TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 2 Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake online report claiming artist's identity has been revealed
- 3 Former East 17 frontman Brian Harvey turns up at Downing Street and 'demands to speak to Prime Minister'
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Paralysed man Darek Fidyka walks again after treatment by British doctors on brink of 'cure'
James Blunt finally admits the truth: 'You're Beautiful' is annoying
Downton Abbey review series 5, episode 5: Period drama falls disappointingly flat
Star Wars Episode 7 has almost finished filming
Fury, film review: Brad Pitt is intriguing as unsympathetic war hero
Batman v Superman: Side-kick Robin to be 'woman played by Jena Malone'
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Lord Freud: Tory welfare minister apologises after saying disabled people are 'not worth’ the minimum wage
Lord Freud hangs on as MPs of all parties 'call for his head' over disability comments